President Benigno Aquino 3rd and Chinese President Xi Jinping would have more time and opportunity to break the ice as the leaders of the two nations embroiled in a bitter maritime dispute would be sitting side by side during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Manila next week.
In a news conference on Thursday, Ambassador Marciano Paynor, director general of the APEC 2015 National Organizing Committee, said it has been the tradition that the leaders of this year’s host country, last year’s host, and next year’s host sit side by side.
China was the host of APEC 2014 while Peru will be the host in 2016.
“Oh yes, definitely,” Paynor said, when asked if there will be “an opportunity for them to meet briefly.”
It is unclear if the seating arrangement is for the whole APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting from November 18 to 19, or only for parts of it, such as a photo opportunity.
The Chinese leader is visiting the Philippines from November 17 to 19 to attend the APEC Summit.
According to Paynor, a senior diplomat, the territorial row will not be discussed during the summit since not all member-economies are affected by it.
But since Aquino and Xi will be seatmates, they will have the opportunity to talk about issues that are bilateral in nature.
“Because China was the previous host, we have what we call a troika and this is a normal practice among the APEC economies who are hosting,” Paynor explained.
“This is a normal practice among APEC economies who are hosting. Usually in the middle is the host, previous host, future host and normally they are seated together, so the opportunity for the President and President Xi Jinping will always be there if they wish to talk about issues that are bilateral in nature,” he said.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr, earlier said the President “welcomed the decision of President Xi Jinping to attend the APEC Summit.”
Aquino also assured China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi “that it is in the culture of the Filipinos as hosts to make our guests feel the warmth of Filipino hospitality,” Coloma added.
The last time Aquino and Xi met was at the sidelines of the APEC Summit in Beijing in 2014.
The meeting was held after a tree-planting ceremony in the Chinese capital.
Aquino said it was the Philippines’ first “direct contact with them” since he met with then-Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2011.
11 bilateral meetings
Paynor said President Aquino is set to have 11 bilateral meetings next week.
He added that discussions for other bilateral talks until next week are still a work in progress given the very tight schedule of Presidents from 21 APEC member-countries.
Paynor said more than half of the 21 leaders will come from Anatolya, Turkey, after the G20 Summit on November 14-16 to attend the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting (AELM) in Manila on November 18-19.
Some of these leaders will also immediately fly out to attend the Asean Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, set from November 18-22.
“So whatever free time they have in between will be arranged and most of these will be arranged at the last minute,” Paynor said.
He added that the bilateral talks between President Aquino and the leaders of 11 other countries will be held at Sofitel Philippine Plaza in Pasay City (Metro Manila) while bilateral talks with other countries will be held either in the hotel they will be staying in or in Solaire Resort and Casino in Parañaque City (Metro Manila).
With 21 heads of state attending the APEC Summit in Manila, everybody’s eyes are on what the host country will give away as souvenir items.
Celebrated Filipino designer Kenneth Cobonpue also on Thursday unveiled the gifts to be handed out to the world leaders
He calls the souvenir tokens to be given to the Economic Leaders “sama-sama,” which means together in English.
The limited edition sculptures represent unity, partnership and cooperation among the member economies.
It features communities of people grouped around island formations (made from laser-cut metal sheets and wood veneer), representing the member economies, and detailed figures are linked to each other as they ascend to the top–”toward the heavens,” as Cobonpue put it.
Made of brass and finished in yellow gold, pale silver and warm copper, to symbolize different races, each glass-covered token is housed in a hand-woven metal and buri (palm spine) carrying case.
About a hundred members of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Anakbayan, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and women’s group Gabriela on also Thursday staged a protest rally in front of the building housing the Chinese consulate in Makati City (Metro Manila).
“Why should we welcome those who illegally occupied our territories?” former Bayan party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño said in Filipino, referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping who has confirmed his attendance in the summit.
The activists marched on the streets leading to the Chinese mission bearing streamers that say “Atin ang Pinas, China Layas [We own the Philippines, China, get out],” “China out of PH waters,” “South China Sea does not belong to China,” among others.
While Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario already announced that the maritime dispute will not be discussed during the APEC, Casiño does not buy it.
The groups made a 20-minute program in front of the Chinese consulate then marched toward the Japanese and US embassies in Pasay City and Manila, respectively.
The activists urged the two countries not to meddle in the West Philippine Sea issue.
Casiño fears that the three giants may connive against the Philippines, deeming that they have their own interests in the country.
Aside from Xi, the militants opposed US President Barrack Obama’s visit next week.
They said they are of the belief that the Supreme Court will approve the controversial Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between Manila and Washington as a gift to Obama.
EDCA allows permanent basing, stockpiling of weapons and use of the country as a launching pad for US military intervention.
Casiño said they will continue their protest caravan until the APEC summit.
Despite their failure to get a protest permit next week, he added that they will find a way to send their message to the world leaders.
With CATHERINE S. VALENTE and PNA